HOUSTON - Does this truly have to be the end?
Sam Houston found the magic to complete its third consecutive fourth-quarter comeback against Stephen F. Austin. Dezmon Jackson scored from one yard out with 35 seconds remaining to claim the 96th edition of the Battle of the Piney Woods with the third largest crowd in the history of the rivalry (26,826) at NRG Stadium.
The win marks the Bearkats 11th consecutive victory in the rivalry, and the Kats improve to 18-3 against the Lumberjacks since 2000. Unfortunately for fans of great rivalry games, this marks the final time these two teams will meet for a while, with Sam Houston moving to FBS and Conference USA next year.
SFA scored the first 13 points of the game before Donovan Adkins blocked a ‘Jacks punt, and Keegan Shoemaker found Noah Smith for a seven-yard touchdown to cut SFA’s lead to 13-7 at the half.
Both teams traded field goals and seven punts in the second half, along with one turnover by the Kats and two turnovers from SFA, until Sam Houston began an 11-play, 78-yard drive with 2:46 remaining in regulation to complete the comeback.
The drive for dominance: In a game reminiscent of last year’s contest, Shoemaker found himself successfully leading his team on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. However, the drive wasn’t without its share of drama.
A personal foul call on third down gave the Bearkats their initial first down of the drive, similar to a facemask penalty in last season’s affair. After that, Sam Houston moved into the red zone without much drama.
The Kats were lined up at the ‘Jacks two-yard line and facing a fourth down. BJ Thompson knocked down a Shoemaker pass, but the ‘Jacks celebration was short-lived due to an offsides penalty.
On the ensuing play, Jackson found a hole on the right side of the offensive line and ran untouched into the end zone. Seth Morgan hit the extra point to provide the margin of victory.
Statistics don’t win rivalry games: This would be a different story if they did. SFA statistically dominated the Kats for three quarters. The ‘Jacks held a 339-198 advantage in total yards and a 129-60 yard advantage on the ground.
The problems came in the red zone for SFA. The ‘Jacks entered the scoring area three times but only scored nine points on those trips. Meanwhile, the Bearkats scored 17 points on their three red zone trips.
In another similarity to last year, Sam Houston dominated the fourth quarter outgaining SFA 101-58 in total yards and 51-15 in rushing yards. K.C. Keeler’s teams have a knack for winning close games and left one final bitter taste in the mouths of the Lumberjacks.
SFA quarterback Trae Self completed his first 14 passes in the contest but only completed 3 of his last 20 attempts, which allowed the Kats to focus on stopping the ‘Jacks rushing attack.
Never letting this go:
Sam Houston has dominated the Battle of the Piney Woods during this century and will not allow SFA fans to forget anytime soon. The Bearkats own a 60-34-2 overall record against the ‘Jacks.
However, the heartbreak for SFA and coach Colby Carthel is palpable. While the rivalry wasn’t particularly close throughout most of the 2000s, the Kats haven’t been nearly as dominant since Carthel arrived at SFA.
Carthel has coached three games in this series, and his team held a fourth-quarter lead in all three contests. Sam Houston has won the last three battles by 13 points, with the previous two games decided by one point.
But this day belongs to the Bearkats and Keeler, who has led the Kats to a win against their arch rival in all eight meetings. It’s just too bad this is the final one.
Game Ball: Sam Houston quarterback Keegan Shoemaker: The junior from Prosper isn’t receiving the game ball for impressive statistics after completing 14-of-40 passes for 188 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions while leading SHSU with 56 yards rushing. But when the Bearkats needed a drive to win its most important game of the season, Shoemaker was the guy leading the attack, and that deserves a game ball.
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